27 June 2004

Fire the Bastards!

A unique and passionate work of literary criticism is now fully available on the web (and may have been for a while): Jack Green's Fire the Bastards!, a 50,000-word essay published in three issues of Green's underground zine newspaper in 1962. It's about William Gaddis's first novel, The Recognitions and the reviews it received upon publication in 1955. (For a full history of Fire the Bastards, see Steven Moore's introduction to the print edition.)

Fire the Bastards! is written with, for the most part, spaces instead of periods at the ends of sentences, very little capitalization, internal punctuation only when absolutely necessary (or when present in a quotation), and a freewheeling, informal prose style. It makes for compulsive reading if you're interested in how badly a book can be reviewed, and in revenge on those reviewers. For instance, here's Green on how reviewers use the term "ambitious" as a quiet criticism:
but "ambitious" novels are not usually failures a guide for the lazy
but wellmeaning critic, how to recognize good books exclude the
commercial trash, take the big "ambitious" novels & theyre usually the
good ones dont read them just weigh them once in a great
while such a books empty, phony like goodman's the empire city.
but most often its the good writer who takes the trouble to make a big
structure the bad ones like to down tools early

i forgot, tho, the critics job is to make the good novels seem bad & the
bad ones good he should say the good "ambitious" books fall short
of something & the mediocre "pleasant" "modest" "appealing" books
succeed in something & hope the reader wont see the 2 "some-
things" are worlds apart

note: the formatting is better at the site
I'll leave you to read the rest. It's worth the work to get through Green's stylistic oddities, because it gives a picture of a particular book's reception. As The Complete Review noted, it would be worthwhile to have a companion volume explaining how Gaddis's novel ultimately came to be seen, despite continued dissent, as a landmark of American literature. (I should note my own status: I have read The Recognitions once, though I must confess to having skimmed parts. Much amused and thrilled me, just as much bored and confused me. I read it over too long a period of time, thus forgetting things I needed to remember. Some day, when I have about six weeks to devote to it, I will reread it, because there was enough that captured my interest to make me think it's worth the work.)

link via mosses from an old manse

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